Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Challenges, Issues and Trends in Health Care and the Church's Mission

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Challenges, Issues and Trends in Health Care and the Church's Mission

Article excerpt


Perhaps now more than ever before, our times carry the marks of the brokenness of humanity and of creation as a whole. Social, political and economic injustice, war and environmental disruption, self-destructive lifestyles, distorted identities and mental and physical ill health together expose a violated creation in conflict with the will of the Creator, everywhere.

Concern for people in pain and suffering has always been one of the hallmarks of Christian witness. This concern is rooted in Christ's mission and mandate on earth, to restore humankind to wholeness and life in its fullness, through Christ's incarnation, suffering and death and through the proclamation of the good news, calling all into new relationships and discipleship. Christ's life on earth was characterized by his acts of healing the sick, restoring human dignity and confronting unjust structures of society. The mandate of the church as the body of Christ, present on earth today, is to continue to bring health and healing into the brokenness of humankind. "As the Father has sent me, so I send you" (John 20:21).

The response to this call must therefore be shaped by the vision of God's promise of salvation and restoration of the whole human being. The ultimate fulfilment of the promise is as yet part of the eschatological hope. But the very presence of the church in the middle of the distorted and dysfunctioning creation means a mandate to serve and act, battling with all forms of ill health and other manifestations of the brokenness of humankind as well as fighting its causes.

The call to witness and service in a healing ministry is directed to individual Christians, to each congregation and group of believers and to the church in its various expressions and manifestations. But acts of healing do not belong exclusively to Christians. Alliances and partnerships need to be established with other organizations and institutions, government or non-government, secular or connected with other religions or ideologies, that share a concern for healing and stand for justice.

The way the church can be involved in health work may vary from country to country, depending on its position in society and the condition of the health services in the country. A church that is an established and recognized institution within a nation may have a different kind of influence on public health decisions than a church that is considered a marginal appearance. And the need for formal and institutional involvement may be quite different in a country with scarce public resources and a poorly developed health care system compared to a country where advanced public systems are in place.

Sensitivity to the specific needs of society in each place and at each level of response is required, to discern how the people of God can contribute to restoration and relief of suffering in the best way. Hence, the church's healing ministry will need to find a range of different expressions, depending on its interpretation of and response to the health-related challenges, issues and trends in the society of which it is a part.

This paper therefore will discuss primarily the role of the church in responding to the challenges of health care delivery in the complexities and diversities of national and local contexts, by first seeking to identify some common features and trends in the health sector at large, and then to discuss and examine church-related health work today.


Increased differentiation within and between countries

The context in which health systems operate is undergoing dramatic change. Major advances have been made in almost all countries, indicating that in some respects the population is getting healthier. However, if mortality and longevity are used as indicators for health, there are still very dramatic differences both globally and within nations. Differences in health status between population groups are becoming more and more evident also in developing countries. …

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